A Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group, headed by the former leader of the New Black Panther Party, announced Wednesday plans to investigate systemic racism and the use of force against Black people by the Howard County Police Department.
Black Lawyers for Justice, which describes itself as a legal advocate for people of color, held a news conference Wednesday outside the Howard County police headquarters. The announcement cited “recent incidents of white supremacist activity, overt racism, long-standing complaints of racial profiling, and unfair policing against African Americans and other allegations of civil rights violations” as the reason for the investigation.
Malik Z. Shabazz, the founder and national President of Black Lawyers for Justice, did not list any specific incidents involving Howard County police at the news conference.
“Residents here who are frightened have asked us to conduct this investigation,” he said at the conference. “We do this to hold [police] accountable in this time. We want to make sure we root it out, right here in Howard County.”
Shabazz said his investigation would compile personnel records, training records, lawsuits and citizen complaints “to determine if the discrimination that has been alleged is in fact correct.”
Howard County police spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn said the department had not yet received a request for that information, but it “would be happy to provide any information being sought.”
“We understand we are not the only police agency that will be receiving this request, so this is not specific to Howard County and was not prompted by an incident or allegation here,” Llewellyn said.
Shabazz is the former leader of the black nationalist New Black Panther Party and has been described by various watchdog groups like the Anti-Defamation League as “racist and anti-Semitic.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Shabazz as “a racist black nationalist with a long, well-documented history of violently anti-Semitic remarks and accusations about the inherent evil of white people” and a man “particularly skilled at orchestrating provocative protests.” He is listed in the Alabama-based law center’s “extremist files,” a watch list that also includes Aryan Nations and Ku Klux Klan leaders.
The Black Lawyers for Justice website shows a flyer for a similar news conference held June 30 at the Fairfax County Police Department after Ofc. Tyler Timberlake was charged with assault and battery. Shabazz cited the incident in Virginia, in which Timberlake struck a man with a stun gun June 5 and allegedly used excessive force, as reason for the investigation into the Fairfax County Police Department.
At the news conference, Shabazz said the investigation may broaden to systemic racism throughout Howard County, not just in the police department.
“Are the prosecutors prosecuting Blacks or African Americans as they do whites? Are the sentences and the sentencing measures, are they equal? Are they fair?” Shabazz questioned.
“We cite here a pattern and a practice of events here in the county of white supremacist activity [in Howard County],” he said.
Two weeks ago, police received a report of racist messages on stickers posted on Centennial Lane between Glastonbury Road and Centennial Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City.
It is being investigated as a “hate-bias incident,” according to Llewellyn. She also said the police department found similar stickers in May.
The stickers were promoting the white supremacist and neo-Nazi group National Alliance. One of them read, “Send them back. They can’t make White babies.” Another read, “Whites should practice racial distancing as well as social distancing.”
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Shabazz also said Wednesday that there has been racist and inflammatory rhetoric from residents toward Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who is the county’s first Black leader.
“As soon as the George Floyd incident broke out here, the county executive received threatening and racists communications and letters from white supremacist forces in this county,” Shabazz said.
Mark Miller, a spokesperson for Ball, did not confirm Shabazz’s assertion.
“Howard County Government does not comment on any matter related to the security of the county executive or other elected officials,” Miller said in an email. “The Howard County Police Department would investigate any threat to elected officials just as it would any member of our community.”
Shabazz led protests in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and was described by some as an “outside agitator.” Records showed that Maryland and Baltimore city officials monitored Shabazz closely during the protests, worried he could incite violence.
Baltimore Sun Media editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.